Qualities of a Spiritual Leader: HUMOR

This continues the series on essential qualities of a spiritual leader as taken from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership.

He begins this quality by saying, “Our sense of humor is a gift from God that should be controlled as well as cultivated” (p.65). Note the two words controlled and cultivated. I had to learn the former (and am still learning it!) very early. I was leading a team in South America for a year and found that my humor endeared me to the students I was trying to serve, but it also served to flatten any kind of call I might make for us to pursue holiness and godliness. It wasn’t to the degree of course joking, but it was oftentimes a proliferation of flippant words. So when I would joke about something, I would get a lot of laughs and light up the room. Everyone seemed to be following. . .

Then I would try to shift the conversation to something of more value, “How are you doing?” “What are your struggles?” “How can I help?” But there was an awkward disconnect because the inertia of silliness had set in. It seemed unnatural to move into the inner chambers of the person’s life when I had just been window dressing. Like the gardener who assumes he can trapse in the house and begin to polish the silver.

In an effort to move into the heart, I began to eschew humor. Like most pendulum swings, it didn’t help. It merely made me so intense that life became a show. Almost as if people were on edge because they didn’t know if a bomb of piety were about to drop. Like the dower butler who can’t smile.

Sanders provides one good test for us: “A good test of the appropriateness of a joke is whether the humor controls us or we control it” (p.67).

Don’t discount humor. I once heard a comedian say that the first step to acceptance of an idea is laughter. Leader, if you can’t laugh, nor make others comfortable with your ability to laugh at your foibles, I would adjure you to lighten up. Leader, if you can’t polish the silver because you’ve got compost all over your face, I would adjure you to wash up. Consider that the ability to laugh and to refrain from laughter stems from the fruit of the Spirit–namely, self-control.

May God help all of us jovial jocks to have sobriety and have a good knee-slapper.

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